Lower and Middle School students and teachers are back to the business of learning in full force, both remotely and in person! Today I witnessed students designing their own Google banner logos, students studying the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., students exploring how hearing changes with age (let’s just say I couldn’t hear the same frequencies the 4th grade students could hear!), and students studying units of measurement and estimating their learning spaces’ size in yards. However, last week’s remote start to the semester actually began on Monday before the students resumed classes on Tuesday. All teaching faculty met remotely for a day of professional development focused on collaboration, reflection, and mutual support.

All industries have changed dramatically during the last year due to the pandemic. The changes brought about provide us with valuable opportunities to think critically and creatively about the future of our field: teaching and learning. Our essential question for the morning was: “What are the current classroom practices that promote positive outcomes in terms of teaching and learning and connection and belonging?” Teachers worked together in cross-divisional breakout groups via Google Meet to discuss their teaching practices, pondering questions such as “What works for in-person learners? What works for concurrent learners? What works when we’re all remote? What works when you have in-person and concurrent learners at the same time?” Members of the Leadership Team listened in on conversations to learn and to think about how we might better support our faculty. Here are a few highlights shared by our talented faculty:

What works for in-person learners?

  • Kindergarten: play directs the academics, learning is playful and fun
  • Middle School: discussion/play key to processing material
  • High School: interactive quality of class is how material is presented
  • Students are grateful to be in-person and their behavior and mood is better
  • Extending some grace, in interactions in working together. Students needed some room to operate and fail for a while.  Letting go of benchmarks 
  • Kinesthetic teaching – finding ways to move during learning (e.g. standing Bingo) for four or five minutes 
  • Socially distanced small group or partner work helps make connections
  • Getting students involved beyond just watching demonstrations
  • The things that normally work prior to pandemic school
  • Being together, interacting, connectivity. Presence (connecting naturally)

What works for concurrent learners?

  • Calling on them, asking direct questions, asking for responses
  • Playing more games to engage
  • Lessons structured differently – concurrent learners have work to do on “off” days; Excitement about sharing when they return to class
  • Time to chat with friends (during Morning Meeting or last 10 minutes of class)
  • Student choice. Give students tasks and have choices within the tasks–this empowers them and reduces stress at home
  • Schedule one-on-one meetings with students
  • Patience and understanding
  • Open communication key (with parents/students) 
  • Mutual understanding, empathy/kindness
  • When the technology all works well!
  • Look for ways to connect in-person learners with concurrent ones through discussion, like moving around the classroom with computer
  • Surprisingly, group work and partner work
  • The planning end is important. Make sure whatever we are doing that there is a way to succeed both remote and in person. 
  • Reminding students in person about people at home and how it is difficult for them to learn when they are talking in class has helped keep class noise down.
  • It works better for some kids who struggle in person. Removing social challenges can let them focus/thrive on the academic side–they feel more comfortable/confident to open up and speak
  • Kindergarten: distractions are part of learning and play/take many breaks
  • Making sure kids have a lot of turns to share. Let kids share about their life. 10 minutes out of class for talking about what is going on with them. Academic stuff is second priority to how kids are doing–making that shift is really helpful
  • Learned that I need to be in the building when we are remote. Helps recreate the atmosphere.
  • Remembering we are defining the new “Best Practices” for concurrent and remote learning/this is all new territory

Just as is the case with our students, continuous improvement is always the goal in our classrooms. I am so grateful for a talented faculty committed to making sure each child feels a sense of connection and belonging, in addition to the content or skill mastery they are learning. Themes of student agency, engagement, choice, and voice shone through in our faculty’s discussion. This semester, we aim to continue our readiness for any mode of learning. Looking toward schooling in the long term, we wonder how we might seize this opportunity to make lasting, impactful change in our field while being true to our roots in Progressive education, thinking of the well being of the whole child.